Monks from all traditions under the tree–or a descendant of the tree–under which the Buddha was enlightened

I meditate with David and Claudine about once a week at the Sattva Center on Xavierville Avenue in Quezon City. At the beginning of this recent interview, I asked David how it happened that a guy from a country as Catholic as the Philippines came to be a Tibetan Buddhist. (Thanks to David Montecillo for the photos from India.)

David’s story

David with Santan Rinpoche of the Nyingma tradition

Okay, I was an ordinary college kid, studying and partying. Because I had a creative streak, after graduation I took a job in advertising. I could spit out good work really fast. But after about two and a half years I started to burn out. I realize now it was because my focus was always on the external, like waiting for the weekend and that adrenaline rush. Eventually it was a three-day struggle to come up with a heading for a simple print ad. I’d gone from a big high to a low low. I decided to bury my disappointment with friends—go out, party, drink. One Saturday in local bar, my friends talked about an energy seminar they’d attended on Pranic healing. I was curious because I was already into martial arts, but only the external side. Our teachers talked about energy, this chi or qi. It was strange. In this crowded bar where people were drinking, my friends were holding their hands in front of each other, feeling each other’s auras and saying, “Your qi is up to here. I can feel it.”

They said there was a class the following morning at eight o’clock in Alabang, a long drive from Quezon City. I wondered about my chances of waking up in time. But the next morning I was up before seven, so I went. That’s how I met my teacher, an American married to a Filipino. Her Tibetan name is Khandro, and she’s a lineage holder of the Tibetan line. She’s also into practices like meditation, Zen and Pranic healing. In class I learned about energy. Sometimes I couldn’t follow because the pacing was too fast, but I felt I belonged, that this was the right time for me explore this kind of thing. The transition started.

At that time I was still in my early twenties. I wanted to go back to school, find a bit more about myself. While I was working on my master’s in business, during the week I went to class, worked with my classmates on case analysis, went to companies to interview them and took tests. On weekends I was at the teacher’s house, learning about dharma, energy, healing and meditation. One side of me was doing left-brain financial statements, and the other side was contemplating the universe. My teacher introduced me to others who taught me things like qigong, and I found my way to a center where I practiced the arts of healing. Over the years one thing led to another. Synchronicities.

So Buddhism is probably the foundation, but I don’t know what to call myself anymore. In my spiritual practice I reach out to a whole milieu of deities—Ganesha, who’s a Hindu deity, is very strong in my life. I’ve been introduced to other energies, like the Isis energy and the Lady of the Adriatic, which is Christian or Catholic. I’ve even touched on the Reiki systems. Every “religion” or pathway leads back to a source. As human beings, before we can put our trust in something it needs to make sense to the rational mind. For me Buddhism was the first step. When I was younger, I didn’t have a good relationship with my Catholic upbringing. I followed the rituals, and in times of crisis I would pray. But it took a Buddhist teacher to make me understand and appreciate Christian terminology. Most traditions have a certain language, but the essence is pretty much the same. We color things based on our culture, our environment, our country’s history. In the office space inside me there’s such a conglomerate that I don’t know what label to use. Some teachers would say that’s good.

David in front of a bodhi tree

Once, friends invited me to a very born-again bible study. They asked my opinion about how to handle certain situations. So I quoted some Buddhist principles, but I replaced the word “Buddha” with “Christ.” Everyone agreed. The language is different, but the principles are the same. In our search for truth, we have buffet before us so we can experience each dish and make our own selections—without imposing them on others. Someone asks me what path to take, and I say, “What do you want? Choose, and if one doesn’t taste right, go to the next.”

Because the Buddhist dharma was written by the Buddha’s disciples, it’s very goal-oriented, like the three jewels [the Buddha, the dharma and the sangha] and the five poisons [ignorance, attachment, aversion, pride and jealousy]. It’s very behavior-based. But if behavior doesn’t come from being-ness, it may not be sustainable. Our being-ness has to translate into behavior. So I learned that even the person who’s throwing a tantrum may also be experiencing Buddha by being authentic, true to the being-ness of right now, rather than following what’s dictated by circumstances. But of course discernment is always there: is this the right place for a tantrum?

Even in Buddhism there’s “do this, do that,” but the true teacher will draw out from you where you want to go. Or give a glimpse of what enlightenment could be like. It’s up to you to find a way, while the teacher says, “You’re getting warmer—oh, you got colder,” a little nudge to get your bearings right. For me, when it was time, the teacher’s physical presence left when she moved to the U.S., but not her energetic presence.

I trained in Pranic healing or qigong therapy, practicing with a group which gave healings twice a week. I found that, regardless of whether people were rich, poor, young, old, when they sit before you their energy patterns tell who they are. And we’re all the same, regardless. Stress, or the issue of separation, is always there, and it shows in our energy patterns.

David’s class with Penor Ringpoche, the head of the Nyingma tradition at that time

I also got involved with a prayer circle led by a lady who channeled angels and gave us messages. In February or March of 2001, she channeled an entity who said through her that I had to be in the U.S. before September. I’d been planning to go for a relative’s wedding in November, and my uncle had asked me to come to New Jersey to help him set up a business. I didn’t know why I had to be on U.S. soil by September, but I talked to my family about going early, and we agreed. My brother and I landed on August 31. It was easy getting through customs with all the luggage because the Filipino officer in charge just waved us through.

My cousins took me around San Francisco, and then I flew to San Diego to see my teacher for the first time in three years. I spent the weekend with her. On September 11, I was in the airport waiting to go back to San Francisco when the World Trade Center was hit. All of a sudden, on the flight information board the signs were turning over—clack, clack, clack, clack—to cancel, cancel, cancel, cancel. A crowd was huddling around the television in a coffee shop. “Holy cow!” All the planes stayed on the ground. The weekend with my teacher became a week. When I got back to San Francisco, I shared the story with my cousins. Two weeks later I was on a Korean Air flight to meet my uncle in New Jersey. So I decided I’d had to be in the U.S. in September because if I’d come later I wouldn’t have been able to get in with all the security.

I had a visa in good standing. I was helping my uncle, but each day I had thirty minutes to an hour to meditate and become quiet. In hindsight I feel that universe used me, along with countless others, as a channel to help balance out energies. New York at that time was in an uproar.  There was a lot of stress, lot of paranoia, a lot of hullabaloo. It was unbelievable. But despite everything I had a peaceful mindset all year. I found myself walking mindfully across New York, at peace inside. I’m sure there were many others who started praying and meditating, and I guess that was just my part. My teacher had once said, “When the universe plans to use you, you’ll be used regardless.”

The 2006 Monlam, the prayer for world peace

A year after Sept. 11, the economy was still down. Once my uncle and I went to a job fair in Madison Square Garden. There were long lines—blocks long and four or five people wide. These were people in Gucci shoes and Armani suits who were grabbing flyers for temp jobs. So I saw how people were displaced, how they were suffering. I saw them reach for happiness and security. As one of the gurus had said, “Security is an illusion.” I witnessed that all over New York. And even though my uncle’s business plan looked good on paper, circumstances entered in. Things happened, things changed. Impermanence was the biggest lesson for me. After a year I moved back to the Philippines.

A couple of years later I started a business with a friend who, like myself, was into dancing, meditation. During my short experience of corporate life here and in New York, I’d heard how noisy people were inside. My friend and I decided to set up a company which would bring wellness and stress management to corporations. Over time our company evolved, adding more aspects.

In 2003 went to Hawaii to get a teacher’s training certificate in Shenzhen qigong. In the 1980s this qigong style was imparted to Master Yi Zhenfeng by one of his teachers, but for a lot of it he went into a trance, and the movements just came out. Mankind needs them now. This system is to help open our hearts and our consciousness and awareness. I set about trying to impart the Shenzhen way as much as I could.

Inside the Temple of Bodhigaya. Some tourists.

In 2006 I went to Bodhigaya in Bihar, India, where the Buddha was enlightened. That’s Mecca for a lot of Buddhists. I was the only Filipino with a contingent of Chinese Buddhists from the local Nyingma temple in the Palyul Lineage, the lineage I still follow. My experience there was very spiritual. Sanpen Rinpoche took us around Bodhigaya. I was privileged to have an audience with his Holiness Penor Rinpoche, the head of the Nyingma tradition. He gave us blessings. Now he has passed on to nirvana. I met a very young incarnation of a high lama who also passed away. There were a lot of typical pilgrimage experiences, but I remember very distinctly bringing the energy back to the Philippines with me. For maybe a week or two I felt so much inimitable peace, which was very palpable. Others would look at me and say, “Wow, you’re so chilled now.”

Before and after I went to India, I received meditation students in my house. As much as possible I tried to be true to what my teacher taught me, and I understood the trouble she had with me and my classmates because we were still sometimes hard-to-control, rowdy kids.

After I got back, I met a lady named Kim Lopa. The first time we met, we each had a flashback to a past life when we were Tibetan monks. Occasionally when I was still in training, I saw her again at the healing center. Around December 2006 Kim gave a workshop called The Lily and Beyond. This is a workshop, a shaktipat or an empowerment, in which divine grace and the blessings of various masters and teachers come down to us in energy form and complete our energy body. In short, all of the benefits of forty or fifty years of spiritual practice and meditation are given in one workshop. That’s The Lily and Beyond. After taking the workshop, we can go into high meditation space instantaneously and hold it there all throughout the day—while washing our clothes, while driving—whereas ordinarily when we went into meditation we could only reach high levels of meditation pace on peak levels during peak days. With the Lily activation we can actually get there instantaneously and hold the space effortlessly. It provides us with peace and a certain buoyancy, so that no matter how our life knocks us down, our default system is just to get back up very quickly. Getting back on your feet doesn’t take months or years. I’ve seen it happen to others who have the activation. This gives us God’s peace 24/7.  The Lily and Beyond is the culmination in my life.

Zemten Rinpoche, a khenpo, David. When David was presented as a practitioner, the khenpo put his head on David’s as a blessing.

Sometimes I feel like a bank deposit box where you put your jewelry to be stored. Sometimes I’m a bit also hesitant because I’ve learned that “to whom much one has been given, much is expected in return.” The individual is expected to let go of old material things, attitudes and beliefs. Where it’s going we don’t know yet. There’s a responsibility for people who have an awareness or who are working on ourselves to reach that awareness. It’s as if humanity is in a time of transition from the old ways of being and doing to a new way of expressing our divinity, a time of unification, assessment, and of being true to who we are. It’s like a time when we’re starting the roots of culture change from who we think we are to who we are inside, accepting every part of us, the light and the dark, the happy to the sad. It’s bringing us back to who we once were thousands of years ago, before the fall from grace, when human consciousness was very high. Now it’s time to reclaim it. That’s my daily experience. I mean, in our company we still make action plans, but often the universe uses us for something.

In the Lily community we have a “Christ office,” which is a place in the atmosphere where there’s Christ-consciousness—not necessarily Christian, but having to do with unification. People work in the office. We who took the lily activation are given the chance to serve. Once I thought Christ-consciousness meant getting along with others, but it’s about unification from within. First the many aspects of who we are inside have to unite as one. From the light to the dark, we have to be accepted for who we are. It’s respect of ourselves. When that happens, we don’t walk anymore as a personality, but we walk, speak, we move as a deity, as the highest expression of who we are spiritually.

The tree in the main temple

In fact, the mission vision of The Lily and Beyond is peace and one brotherhood of man. That’s one word: peaceandonebrotherhoodofman In order to see it work, for those of us who said yes to the Christ-office, every aspect of our being, of our lives, has to be aligned with it. Our work, our careers, our relationships, our relation to nature—peaceandonebrotherhoodofman. In the Lily community. after the shaktipat, we’re connected 24/7 to divine energy. So our intuitions can be activated. Some people’s healing “powers” can be activated. Some people’s clairvoyance becomes magnified. Manifestations become quicker. This is about change, to help manifest what we call the Golden City Alert, peaceandonebrotherhoodofman. This is a tall order, but we know we are always guided with backup. All we have to do is move in faith.

The empowerment doesn’t violate free will. If we still choose to go to shadow or back into our old programs, it won’t stop us. It will delay the work, but that’s free will. That’s the divine. Free will of man is respected above all else. So that’s how we are in the Lily community. I believe that, in every faith, peace and one brotherhood of man is the goal. It’s like qigong, yoga, Catholicism, Christianity, Islam, are all dots, and it’s our job to connect them so we can see the big picture.

A reader writes:

Thank you for sharing this, Carol!  I’ve read it up.  Now I got a better appreciation of David’s spiritual growth and transformation, which allowed me to gain an insight as well on the synchronicities I have been experiencing.

Another reader writes:

I really appreciate your latest post about David’s journey and spiritual growth. I like learning about the different experiences of fellow pilgrims.